What Happened to Guillermo Rigondeaux?
With the news earlier this month that Cuban Guillermo Rigondeaux has parted ways with Roc Nation as well as his long time promoter Caribe Promotions, I revisit an article I wrote last December on ‘El Chacal’ for the Ringsidereport.com. Rigondeaux is an extremely talented fighter, without doubt he is one of the most talented fighters we have seen this century. There aren’t many fighters with his technical ability or his defensive skill. Who knows how old he really is, despite being well outside of his prime years he would still be a force to be reckoned with if he sticks to in and around his division rather than jumping up two weight classes as he did against Lomachenko. With any luck, we will see him in the WBSS should they decide to set up a tournament for super bantamweights. For someone of Rigondeauxs talent and achievements, it would be great to see him rewarded with the kind of money a fighter of his talents deserves.
The Curious Case of Guillermo Rigondeaux
In 2012, Nonito Donaire was establishing himself as one of the finest pound for pound fighters in the World, the Super Bantamweight had added the WBO and IBF world titles to his name and ever growing reputation and finished off the year by being named as Fighter of the year by a host of organisations such as The Ring and ESPN.
So when the Filipino Flash took on his next challenger in April of 2013, few would be forgiven in thinking that this would be yet another victory for Donaire, the 29yr old was in his peak and had not been defeated for 12 years. His one and only loss coming in 2001 as a mere teenager in just his second pro bout.
His challenger would be a 32yr old Cuban who was the WBA Champion with just 11 pro bouts on his resume. His name was Guillermo Rigondeaux, a much celebrated two time Olympic gold medallist.
The number 13 is unlucky to some, and on this night of April 13th it was to be unlucky for Nonito Donaire. His 12yr winning streak came to an end as the one they called ‘El Chachal’ picked apart the no.5 ranked pound for pound fighter in the world with a stunning display of counter punching and ring generalship. The result was a unanimous decision for Rigondeaux, with the fight being far easier than the official scorecards suggested.
By retaining the WBA title and now adding the WBO, The Ring and Lineal Super bantamweight titles to his throne, Rigondeaux had established himself as the top dog in the division. The future looked bright for the Cuban, all those struggles, all of the hardship he had endured to forge a career for himself in the pro ranks could now pay dividends as he looked to the future….
December 9th 2017, more than four and half years since that illustrious night, Rigondeaux sat on his stool in the corner of his ring, dejected, disinterested, refusing to come out for round seven, complaining of an injury to his left hand. The left hand that had broken jaws, had broken eye sockets, was now itself ‘broken’ and failed him on the biggest night of his career.
Just what happened to Guillermo Rigondeaux, that less than 5yrs on from April 13th 2012, no one but the most hardcore of boxing fans knows who he is? That since that night, he had only entered the ring a paltry seven times and one of those was ruled a no contest.
Rigondeauxs career never succeeded in taking off as one would have expected, the reasons depending on who you listen to were wide and varied, Top Ranks Bob Arum did not like him and was intent on making his career suffer, the TV networks did not like his fighting style, a defensive counter puncher with a low punch output and low work rate just wasn’t fan friendly or good for TV ratings. Rigondeaux could win every one of a 12 round fight when he could have knocked you out within a few rounds. Then there was the problem that he was just so good, no one wanted a part of him, the other champions stayed well clear, preferring to fight eachother than entertain certain loss against Rigondeaux. The same excuses were used by these fighters, Rigondeaux is boring, no one knows who he is so not enough money can be made for them to risk losing their title.
All the while, Rigo was developing a small but hardcore fan base who had recognised ‘The Jackal’ for what he was, a supremely gifted and talented fighter. When the pound for pound rankings were routinely discussed, Rigondeauxs name was almost always in the top ten. But as these discussions took place, as more fighters avoided Rigo, the more Rigo complained about being alienated from the big fights, the older Rigondeaux became, the less active he became and the less he was challenged in the ring, both physically and mentally.
So when Rigondeaux called out a fellow two time Olympic champion, a man was who doing everything Rigo should have been achieving the past four years and making headlines within the sport and showcasing his extreme talent, the boxing world licked its lips at the prospect of a fan fight made in heaven. For the first time ever, we would witness two, two time Olympic gold medallists challenging each other in a pro fight. To match his two gold medals though, Rigondeaux would be moving up two weight divisions to challenge the one they called ‘Hi-Tech’ Vasyl Lomachenko. Here was Rigo’s chance to vindicate himself, all of those critics who called him boring, all of the promoters, TV Networks, fighters who wanted no part of him, would be forced to change their tune if Rigo could right the wrongs of the past and show them he still had plenty left to offer the sport and was capable of putting on a great show of boxing, against one of the current golden boys of the sport, a man being touted by some as the best since Muhammad Ali, by others as the best pound for pound fighter in the world.
As the night of the fight approached, as boxing history was being made, as boxing purists looked forward to a fantasy match up, we hoped something special would be seen from two ring wizards. This was like going to the movies to watch a remake of your favourite movie as a child, so this is what it would be like to watch a new version of The Godfather?
But as the fight ended, the result was more like going to the movies to watch the final episode of the Expendables, so much talent, so much greatness which didn’t deliver and it was Guillermo Rigondeaux who played the part of the ageing great who was nowhere to be seen(and not just because he was ducking thigh high to avoid Loma’s punches).
Rigondeauxs bizarre exit mid fight was befuddling. Yes he was struggling to land punches on his opponent but the same could be said of Loma. Rigondeaux was undoubtedly losing the fight, but he was not hurt, he was not tired but he was content to duck, weave and grab Loma all night, barely throwing the punches we were so used to seeing him counter with. On the night Rigo could have silenced everyone of his detractors, he only ended up pouring more fuel onto the fire and giving them more reason to banish him to the realms of boxing purgatory.
But at 37 years of age, does Rigondeaux have enough time to serve in purgatory? And 37 is really anyones guess, like his Cuban counterpart Heavyweight Luis Ortiz, the boxing records state late 30’s, the rumours are early 40’s…
The unwritten rule in Boxing is a fighter never quits, in certain situations it is forgivable, such as Britains Kell Brook pulling out of fights due to fractured eye sockets where his vision could have been permanently effected, but in the case of a hand injury what made Rigondeaux believe it was a valid excuse to quit? The injuries boxers have fought through are legendary, Ali with his broken jaw, Danny Williams winning with a dislocated shoulder are just two such occasions. Just last week we saw Miguel Cotto fight through a torn bicep in his last pro fight, ending his career with injury and a loss but he did not quit and continued until the full 12 rounds had been completed. Joe Calzaghe and Andre Ward are just two champions who fought on and won with broken hands.
Rigondeauxs expression has always been one of disinterest, you never quite know what he’s thinking, whether he is high or low, in pain or not, his facial expressions do not give his game away, perhaps therein lies the problem. On a historical night of boxing, Rigondeaux left looking as if he did not care.
El Chachal says he will be back and fight anyone who wants a piece of him but after his listless showing on the biggest stage of his career, will anyone want a piece of Rigondeaux?
What he was thinking is anyones guess, was he content with earning one last pay cheque to roll away with his cuban cigars into retirement? Did he underestimate the jump up two divisions against an elite opponent? Did the years of lacking activity effect him more than we believed, that when he came up against a fighter as talented as himself, he did not have the resolve or will power to battle through? Was Rigondeaux unable to adapt and think of a plan b or c when his hand was hurt and when he was docked a point for excessive clinching?
Whatever The Jackal was thinking, he will also now have to think where he wants to go with his career now. It would be a shame if Rigondeaux was to be remembered for all the wrong reasons rather than the undoubted talent he possesses, that the night of December 9th ends up as his defining moment in a career full of boxing genius and accomplishments. Rigondeauxs career has been a series of ‘what if’s’ and it looks certain to continue that way.